Pendleton UAS Range creates sub-brand for drone agriculture project

Pendleton Drone Range

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[Editor’s Note: The “Future Farm” will focus on testing and promoting the agricultural capabilities of drones.]

The drone industry has long said that the future of agriculture is in the sky. The Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range is about the put serious resources into that prediction.

Pending a $10,000 match from the city, the Pendleton UAS Range is set to receive a grant of $150,000 from SOAR Oregon, a statewide UAS-focused nonprofit, to establish the Oregon UAS Future Farm.

The Future Farm is the brainchild of Jeff Lorton, the director of the Carlton advertising agency Duke Joseph, and Young Kim, the CEO of Digital Harvest, a Virginia-based UAS company specializing in agriculture.

Using their combined expertise in promotion and technology, Lorton and Kim want to use Future Farm to attract drone companies from around the world to Pendleton.

Lorton describes Future Farm as a “sub-brand” of the UAS range, a project that can take advantage of the range’s existing infrastructure and Federal Aviation Administration authorizations to test and promote the agricultural capabilities of drones.

Lorton said drone companies in urban areas across the country are developing vehicles and software to address common crop issues like pest control and disease detection, but don’t have access to the farmlands to further develop their technology.

Between a multi-billion agricultural industry, a wide variety of crop types and a group of farmers willing to explore new technology, Lorton said the Columbia Basin was the best place to establish the Future Farm.

Future Farm’s job will be to facilitate access for drone companies to farms and rural areas, depending on what their needs are.

In order to start the project, Digital Harvest will move one of its pilots and his family from Virginia to Pendleton and establish an office in town.

Pilot Steve Lawn will spend the next year building out UAS communication infrastructure, which coordinates operations between the drone and farm equipment such as soil moisture monitors and pivots. He will also work farm operations with a Yamaha RMAX drone, a UAV resembling a helicopter that Lorton called “the most advanced agricultural drone in the world.”

Future Farm is also planning a summer “drone rodeo,” a series of demonstrations for local farmers, and a one-week “crash course” on UAS operation this winter.

Lorton said all of these moves are being done to start integrating drones into the agricultural community and advertise to farmers that UASs are worth looking into.

“You can’t do that in a booth at a trade show,” he said.

Lorton said Future Farm will also work toward the helping the city rent the range’s facilities and services as well as increase the presence of drone companies’ presence in Pendleton, a significant part of the range’s longterm goal.

Steve Chrisman, Pendleton’s economic development director and airport manager, and Lorton gave a presentation on Future Farm before the Pendleton City Council Tuesday. The council will consider paying the $10,000 match for the $150,000 SOAR Oregon grant its April 19 meeting.


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